7 April 2020   Leave a comment

The COVID-19 pandemic should make us think more seriously about the meaning of national security. Since 11 September 2001, the US has spent an incredible amount of money on the “war” on terror: “A 2018 study by the Stimson Center put the cost at $2.8 trillion during fiscal years 2002 through 2017. Spending on counterterrorism made up nearly 15 percent of the $18 trillion in federal discretionary spending during that period.” If one includes the costs of providing for the war veterans as well as the interest costs for all the money borrowed to pay for that war, the cost could be as high as $6.5 trillion. The war on terror was in response to about 3,000 lives lost on 9/11. For 2020, the US has budgeted $738 billion for the Pentagon to cover future threats to the US.

The COVID-19 pandemic could cost about 100,000 US lives. The costs of protecting American lives from the virus is likely substantially less. The Cato Institute offers these comparisons:

“Surveying that budget request from two months ago, the Trump administration had asked for $11.4 billion to purchase 79 F‑35 Joint Strike Fighters, $3.5 billion for 2 Arleigh Burke destroyers for the Navy, and $1.5 billion to modernize 89 M‑1 Abrams tanks.

“By way of comparison, then, and using high‐​end estimates for the medical devices, for the cost of a single F‑35 ($144 million), we could have purchased at least 2,800 ventilators.

“Last month, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called on hospitals to quickly expand the number of beds in the state. Six hospitals reported that it would cost nearly $40 million to add 340 by May 1st. At that rate, the one Navy destroyer in the Trump administration’s budget ($1.75 billion) costs as much as 14,870 hospital beds.

“And it would cost less to purchase 17 million N‑95 protective masks (at the pre‐​gouging price) than what U.S. taxpayers are being asked to spend to modernize a single Abrams tank (the one the Army doesn’t want).

Americans need to debate these priorities in the upcoming presidential election. Defense budgets are generally passed in the US Congress with little or no debate. Yet talking about securing the health of citizens seems to be a highly controversial subject. These priorities are indefensible.

The Guardian has published an article which catalogs a number of cases in which orders for medical equipment for a number of countries were essentially hijacked by the US. Protective equipment, such as masks, and medical equipment, such as ventilators, were bound for different destinations but were diverted to the US after huge sums–in some cases three times the original price–were paid in cash. The Guardian explains:

“In the scramble for masks and other critical medical supplies, the US has a significant advantage in its fleet of large air freighters, three times the size of China’s. Buyers from national governments, US states and private buyers are going through a network of brokers, many in Shanghai.

“One broker, Michael Crotty, who runs Golden Pacific Fashion & Design in Shanghai, told the New York Times that Chinese factories sometimes move the highest-paying customers to the front of the line. ‘It’s a seller’s market,’ Crotty said. ‘You don’t see this very often.'”

The countries who lost access to promised supplies include Germany, France, Barbados, Brazil, and Canada. Business Insider describes the French experience:

“On the same day, French officials claimed that a mask order coming from China was bought from under them at the last moment. They cargo was already on the runway in Shanghai when it was bought for much more money, they said.

“The masks were reportedly already on a plane bound to leave the airport in Shanghai when US buyers turned up and offered three times the amount the French were paying, according to The Guardian.

“Jean Rottner, president of the GrandEst regional council in France, was quoted as telling RTL radio: ‘On the tarmac, they arrive, get the cash out…so we really have to fight.’

“While Rottner did not identify who exactly the buyers were, another French official said the group acted for the US government, The Guardian reported.

“French politician Rénaud Muselier told the channel BFMTV: ‘The icing on the cake, there is a foreign country that paid three times the price of the cargo on the tarmac.'”

These tactics are definitely the consequence of an “America First” policy. They are however, morally repugnant and hardly conducive to good relations among strong allies.

Posted April 7, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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